The experience of living with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis has brought me a whole course of lessons about living in a body. Before I began to engage with these lessons, I was very Spirit-oriented. I experienced Spirit strongly, and in a very real way. Spirit was my source for guidance, protection, comfort and strength. In my early life, when living in a body was frightening and even more painful, it was Spirit who led me to another dimension where I could be safe, a dimension which delivered me from the pain and discomfort of the body and introduced me to the pleasures and joys of the unseen world. So the Spirit and my spirit were good friends, and all was tonking along well, I thought. And then…my body became ill and a whole new dimension of spiritual experience was opened for me, a dimension in which spirit and body intersect, work together, are companions and soul mates rather than opponents. So here are a few of those lessons, presented in no particular order, and certainly not yet mastered.
- Life is very sweet.
That life is good and sweet may seem like an obvious thing to some, but because of the intensity and ongoing nature of my childhood challenges, I hadn't ever really noticed that the struggles were over and I was alive. I kept reliving the feelings, body sensations, images over and over in my thoughts, dreams, and general orientation toward the world. Therapy helped some with these PTSD symptoms, and I am very grateful to my former therapists. But it was the contrast provided by chronic pain that allowed me to finally appreciate that I was alive, and that life was very sweet indeed. On the days when there was no pain, I was filled with gratitude and delight to be able to walk, work, pull weeds, hike in Canyon de Chelly, enjoy my friends, sleep through the night. Simple pleasures became rapturous delights. I learned that these mundane things, which I hadn't even noticed before because I was so blinded by the memories of struggle, were wonderful blessings. And I came to understand how important they were to my quality of life.
- That I hated my body, and that it was life or death for me to learn to love it.
I never knew that I hated my body while I was hating it. I just thought that it was slightly disgusting – because it was too fat, too weak, too uncoordinated, or too something-else-or-other. I felt ashamed of it, but thought, vaguely, that this was normal and okay. That one should distrust one's body, that somehow a body was untrustworthy and in need of firm handling. So it needed stringent diets, stringent exercise, stringent sleep regimens. (I once tried to exist on five hours of sleep per night because I had read somewhere that five hours was all the human body needed in an optimum situation. I didn't consider, of course, that my situation wasn't optimum, and I certainly didn't consult my body.) I avoided looking at myself in the mirror. Any health habit that I tried to initiate was introduced with a firm resolve to shape up the body and make it over – and so, of course, every resolution failed, and I experienced once again how "untrustworthy" my body was. And then I got sick, eventually receiving the diagnosis of the chronic, inflammatory, autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In RA, the body attacks itself – the immune system attacks the synovium, or the smooth lining, of the joints, as well as ligaments, tendons, and other soft tissue. It can result in shortened life span, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, and increased risk of lymphoma and blindness. My body-hatred had finally manifested as a physical disease. When I came to realize how closely linked these two things were - my attitude toward my body, and my body's attitude toward its own mobility – I knew it was life or death for me to learn to love my body.
- How to ask for and accept help.
When I was young, there was no help. Either the trustworthy people could not see – and I could not tell – or the offers of "help" were tricks designed to provide access to manipulating or exploiting me. So I grew to suspect offers of help, and to keep to myself. I was blessed to receive some kindness early in life, however, so I was able to imagine what it might be like should someone just see through the secrets, notice my need, and respond to it. When I had my tonsils out at age three there was a nurse who rocked me and sang to me when I was frightened in the middle of the night, and there were various kind teachers who saw my unhappiness but could not fathom the source of it. Doctors just augmented the trouble, either treating my body like a piece of meat, much like my tormentors did, or heaping judgment on me as a young adult when I was unsure about my willingness to have babies. Years later, my first successful attempt to ask for help was motivated by needing help for my children. So I was able to risk asking for their sake. That asking had a happy outcome, so I found it encouraging to continue, and to eventually learn to ask on my own behalf. A tiny seed became a tree. My advice to those for whom it is hard to ask: choose your helpers carefully, but DO take the risk. It will get easier. And as you receive the living water of others' love and kindness, you will have more in the well to share with others.
More lessons to follow in future posts.
© 2010 Merry Stanford